When Rep. Steve Stockman (R-TX-36) signed his official candidate documents to run against Texas Republican Sen. John Cornyn, only hours remained in the candidate filing period. After the figurative dust cleared, Republican Party officials decided that there needed to be an extended opportunity for more individuals to enter the now incumbent-less 36th District congressional race. So after citing some legal technicalities in the way Rep. Stockman withdrew his previous filing from the House race, they extended the qualification period for this race alone through Monday, Dec. 16. But, the extra period is not open to all.
In Texas, the political parties control the filing process for their own candidates, not the state government. Therefore, the state chairman and executive committee members can make arbitrary governing decisions. In this case, the party officials are allowing more people to file in the 36th Congressional District, but only if the individual has not already filed for another office. Therefore, anyone who has officially filed papers for another office, i.e., state House, Senate, or local office, is ineligible to file for this congressional seat.
Here is a good example of where an effectively eliminated federal pre-clearance process – pertaining to the US Department of Justice having virtual approval authority over certain states’ electoral changes – becomes major. Before the US Supreme Court ruling in the Shelby County (AL) case, this filing process alteration would have needed Department of Justice pre-clearance, and it is doubtful that would have been granted. Effectively, a whole class of people: those who have previously chosen to run for another public office, now see their constitutional right to run for Congress temporarily abridged.
It is important to remember that the Voting Rights Act still stands, however, and legal challenges to this point could certainly ensue. A central figure in this situation could be state Rep. James White, a two-term African-American Republican whose current district is fully contained in TX-36, and a person reportedly expressing interest in running for Congress. But, because of the Republican Party of Texas’ ruling, his candidacy is not possible since White has already filed for re-election to his state House seat.
The current TX-36 field of candidates includes six Republicans, four of whom already had planned to run against Rep. Stockman. The most notable of the new entries is Doug Centilli (R), the veteran chief of staff to Rep. Kevin Brady (R-TX-8). Brady previously represented much of the East Texas territory that now comprises the 36th District. This is one of four new seats reapportionment granted the state in 2010. It is a solidly Republican district, meaning Stockman’s successor will be the next GOP nominee. It is reasonable to forecast Centilli as the early favorite.
Also filing at the last moment is insurance executive Dave Norman (R), who is apparently Rep. Stockman’s preferred choice to succeed him. The previous Republican entries are ex-Seabrook City Councilman Kim Morrell who ran in the 2012 open seat and fared poorly, scoring less than four percent; Nassau Bay city Councilman John Amdar; attorney and previous congressional candidate Chuck Meyer; and Phil Fitzgerald, the former Liberty County Judge (Executive) against whom federal authorities both brought, and then subsequently dropped, bribery charges. For the Democrats, only teacher Michael Cole, the 2012 Libertarian congressional nominee, is running.
Expect to hear much more from this district in the coming days.